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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

A Night at the Exit/In with Bassnectar

Jan. 15, 2010

If you're in this band's audience, you're caught in a dance mob of hoodie-clad

twenty-somethings; you may or may not be wearing a costume, and chances are, at any given moment, you're wondering where the ganja smell's coming from. Even if you aren't under any sort of influence, you're definitely smiling uncontrollably, because you're in the middle of the most mind-boggling two hours you've ever spent (not counting the time you saw that movie Fight Club).

Enter Bassnectar, a team of visual artists and musicians. The collaboration's creative leader, Lorin Ashton, and his computers are the centerpiece of the stage, but the audience's attention is drawn to everything else around him – especially the lights that project laser beams over the crowd, and the gigantic LCD panels emitting a constant stream of dreamlike visuals.

At the Exit In for my first Bassnectar concert, I'm surprised to find a distinctly Woodstock-esque vibe in the crowd. In the corner, a bowl is passed around and shared amongst concertgoers. When I run into a former classmate, he introduces me to his giggling friends, and then whispers amusedly, “Don't mind them, they're all on acid.” Later, someone asks me if I'm on ecstasy; not waiting for an answer, he says benevolently, “I have some extra in my pocket, if you want any more!” As I start to politely decline, he disappears – only to return a few minutes later with a Dixie cup of water, explaining very seriously that it's important to drink a lot of water to stay hydrated. I am not on any drugs at all, but all the same, I appreciate this general spirit of camaraderie. Thanks for lookin' out for me!

This sense of community is appropriate for a Bassnectar concert, since (as Ashton himself says), the group represents an endeavor to not only “merge music, art, and new media,” but also “social involvement and community values” (“”). This makes it difficult to place Bassnectar squarely in any one genre, but it is a form of dub music called “dubstep,” which carries on the Jamaican reggae and dub musicians' tradition of reflecting a belief in the importance of social community (in fact, Bassnectar makes an homage to dub music's origins with the song “Kingston”).

Bassnectar's songs are complicated and vary in their structure. They're melodic, but with such heavy bass that, as the Nashville Scene warned concertgoers before the October performance, "this double-dose of way-out EDM [Electronic Dance Music] is bound to rumble your lower GI in ways you never thought possible" (Maloney). There are usually no lyrics in Bassnectar songs, except those that are sampled.

As you might guess, technology is a major part of the Bassnectar experience. The music itself requires computer technology that welds together different genres, creating sounds that closely mimic those that might be heard during an acid trip. Aside from that, the light show uses powerful instruments that project the laser light show far into the crowd. And of course, there are the LCD panels that complete the Bassnectar concert, which generate non-stop visuals, of everything from Discovery Earth-like landscapes, to animated breakdancers, to giant floating bubbles in fluorescent colors (see video below). Bassnectar's ambitious pursuance of new media has produced results that are as intriguing as they are delightful.

On Bassnectar's Myspace website, Ashton cites his influences as ranging across Nirvana, Run DMC, Frank Zappa, and native American flute music. He explains that his music is “an amalgamation of every sound I've ever heard, mixed with ultra wicked basslines.” Bassnectar allows Ashton the flexibility to combine any and all genres, with the option of pulling music from every nook and cranny of musical history. His samples come from a wide range of older music (for example, his dub with the Pixies' “Where Is My Mind” got a huge reaction from the crowd at the Exit/In), yet he also incorporates original ideas which come from his many collaborators. Almost every genre has been represented in Bassnectar's repertoire, which now includes eight albums. Some of the instrumentation that this includes is acoustic guitar, keyboards, theremin, snare drum, bass, and sequencers that make any other sound possible. The combined usage of these different sounds creates a texture that is sometimes described as a “soundscape.”

There are certainly some parallels between Bassnectar and earlier acid rock – Bassnectar's concert is enough to make a completely sober person feel like they're on hallucinagens (without any risk of nausea or heart palpitations! *thumbs up*) With complicated structures and lengthy songs that are usually entirely instrumental, Bassnectar is a DJ sub-species of the jam band. Like other jam bands who are descendants of the fathers of acid rock, Bassnectar is dedicated to enhancing its live audience's experience, through visuals, light shows, and danceable music.

The appeal of a live Bassnectar show is huge today, at a time when people have a great appreciation for affordable ways of being uplifted. Go see Bassnectar and you'll be immersed in an environment where people believe in the possibility of positive change and human fellowship. And you needn't fret about what to wear to the show, since your dance partner will probably be wearing a dinosaur costume or a onesie—regardless, no one will care about your outfit, because everyone will be happily hypnotized by the spectacle on stage. This year, many of us were looking for an escape from term papers, the monotony of minimum wage jobs, the stresses of navigating a desolate economic climate. This is how I can justify spending all of my extra money on live music (that is to say, the money I don't spend at Smoothie King, which I could devote another entire blog to). The Bassnectar experience was beyond impressive, it was inspiring; which is why I've named this blog after a Bassnectar song.

Listen to: "Bomb Tha Blocks," Bassnectar (Underground Communication)

Video from Oct. 7, 2009 at the Exit In, Nashville, TN

"Bassnectar Profile." 2007., Web. 14 Nov 2009. <>.

Maloney, Sean L. "Bassnectar & DJ Vadim at Exit/In." Nashville Arts. 01 10 2009. The Nashville Scene, Web. 14 Nov 2009. < exit-in/>.

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